A BIRTH OF FREEDOM
“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Earlier this month, in an essay titled “The late, great, American Republic – A Report from Mid-Century, 2050” I projected a dark future for the United States if trends and conditions set in motion by the Bush Administration continue well into the future. In this follow-up I fulfill my promise to portray a brighter alternative future.
It is a future that we will not see, unless a sizeable portion of our population takes courageous, intelligent and persistent action in opposition to the Bush regime, the reactionary Congress, the Republican leadership, and the media that slavishly support them.
The reader must keep in mind that this essay offers a scenario, not a prediction. It is certain that the future will not unfold precisely this way – surely not in all particulars. For example, to avoid partiality to any of the announced Democratic candidates, I project that Gen. Wesley Clark will get the nomination. Furthermore while any number of the developments suggested here might contribute to the downfall of the Bush regime and the renewal of our democracy, if that desirable outcome is achieved, there will no doubt be many other contributing factors not anticipated here.
The essay takes the form of a letter, written in the summer of 2005 to a friend abroad. Because I have the good fortune of having many such friends, I have chosen a name belonging to none of them. My make-believe friend is a biologist at Moscow University, Mikhail Ivanovich Milankov.
July 21, 2005
Your amazement at the “Second American Revolution” of the past three years is no greater than my own. Few are privileged to live through such an astonishing moment in world history, and I am pleased to give my contemporary observations, not only to fulfill your request for an account of how it came about, but also to provide our children and their children some understanding of these events.
But, of course, you also have had such an experience. I recall vividly our conversation on that misty day in August, 1991, as we walked along the Moscow River past the Russian Federation Parliament building. I asked you then if there were any likelihood of significant political reforms in the Soviet Union – beyond the glasnost and perestroika reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev. You were doubtful – “not,” you said, “as long as the Communist Party remains in firm control.”
Three days later, I was back home in California, riveted to the TV screen as I watched the 1991 revolution and then the counter-revolution unfold at that very site of our conversation. At the close of that year, the Communist Party was broken as a political force and the Soviet Union was no more. (Author’s note: This was, in fact, my personal experience in every detail except, of course, my Russian friend at the time was not named Mikhail. EP).
And so we have both learned: “never say ‘never’.”
In the Spring of 2003, the Republican control of our government seemed every bit as secure as Leonid Brezhnev’s control of yours at the peak of his power. In November 2000, the Bush administration seized power through massive vote fraud and manipulation in Florida, followed by the judicial coup d’etat in the Supreme Court. The public, the Democratic Party, and their candidate Al Gore, meekly accepted. And so the Bush clique wondered, “just what more can we get away with?” As it turned out, it was a very great deal – and even more, after the American public was stunned by the catastrophes of September 11, 2001.
Raid the US Treasury, give it to the super-rich, and pass the bill on to the masses and future generations? Why not? Dismantle the social contract between the government and the public by starving government agencies of funding? No problem. Abrogate judicial rights guaranteed by the Constitution? The USA PATRIOT Act did just that and the Congress, with virtually no opportunity to read this massive bill, approved it without a whimper. Just as it cheerfully handed over its Constitutional power to declare war to the President.
Thus the Bush regime came to believe, not without justification, that the American public would accept almost anything, provided it was sugar-coated by the captive mass media. All the while, the polls reported that George Bush’s “approval ratings” were solidly between the high sixties and low eighties. With control of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the mass media, and apparently a sizeable majority of the public, what politician could ask for more.
And so, on March 19, George Bush confidently went to war with Iraq, ostensibly to disarm the brutal dictator of his allegedly deployed “weapons of mass destruction” and to “liberate” the Iraqi people, but in fact to establish a power base in the Middle East, seize the oil fields, and set an example to the world of American military power and his willingness to use it.
By mid-summer, 2003, a few of us began to detect whiffs of the political firestorm that was soon to follow. For, at long last, the Bush regime had over-reached in its ambition, and had overestimated the limits of public tolerance and gullibility. Official “evidence” of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, presented by Bush in that most solemn public statement, The State of the Union address, was found to be concocted and groundless. Following the expected easy military victory in Iraq, the American troops were greeted, not with cheers and flowers, but with determined resistance. While state and municipal services – schools, universities, police, firefighters, infrastructure maintenance, etc. – were starved of funding, billions of dollars were flowing to Iraq, through favored American corporations such as Haliburton and Bechtel, to rebuild that shattered country and to stem the growing disaster, all the while the coffins of fallen soldiers were regularly shipped back to embittered friends and families throughout America.
At long last, the muted Democrats found their voice and spoke out in eloquent protest. The solid wall of media support of Bush and the Republicans began to crack, as first a few columnists, then more and more reporters, began to resume the roles of journalists rather than of propagandists and apologists. This tentative return to journalistic integrity was encouraged also by the growing disaffection of a public that turned to foreign sources, such as the Guardian in England and the Toronto Star in Canada, and to the internet, for their news and information.
Bush’s approval ratings plunged until, by early August, they finally dropped for the first time below 50%, as more than 50% of those polled reported that they were not inclined to vote for Bush’s re-election in 2004.
Facing this loss of public support, Bush reached into his trusty bag of tricks for the device that had previously bloated his ratings: In October, he ordered the invasion of Syria which, he said, was hiding the Weapons of Mass Destruction that the US Military had failed to discover in Iraq.
With that, the iron discipline of the Congressional Republicans collapsed. Four Republican Senators, Chaffee, Snowe, Collins and Voinevich, unwilling to be “fooled twice,” declared themselves as Independents, joining Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont. The control of the Senate reverted back to the Democrats, who promptly rescinded the war resolution of 2002 and adopted a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops in Syria. The Senate then ordered a series of investigations of alleged abuses of power by the Bush Administration.
Soon thereafter, fifteen moderate House Republicans fled the GOP fold and declared themselves independents. The House of Representatives, reorganized under a Democratic-Independent coalition, set up a parallel series of Select Investigation committees, and drew up Articles of Impeachment against both President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Following upon these political seismic shocks, a few dissenters’ slogans, which had been circulating throughout the progressive internet, broke into the general public consciousness and conversation. Among them, “Is this the kind of country you want for yourself, your children and your grandchildren to live in?” And to the traditional Republicans, “What is more important to you, your Party or your Country?” For more and more Republicans, desertion from a party captured by a radical- anarchistic-evangelical fringe, became first imaginable, and then for many, compelling. The levee of party loyalty was crumbling before the flood of outrage.
In the Fall of 2003, the right-wing monopoly in the media was finally broken with the inauguration of a liberal radio talk-network, and a liberal cable news network. Both were funded by investors who did so out of sense of dedication and with full expectation of huge financial losses. Both featured unbiased news reports in addition to progressively oriented analysis and commentary, and authentically balanced liberal-conservative debates. To the astonishment of all, both ventures drew audiences, and then sponsors, that far exceeded the most optimistic expectations. Clearly there was a vast audience starved for comprehensive and unbiased news reporting and for the progressive messages offered by these new networks. Moreover, the talent pool available to these ventures was virtually bottomless, consisting of celebrities who had been shunned and slandered by the right-wing media – Martin Sheen, Robert Redford, Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins. On the radio talk shows, Al Franken and Michael Moore were instant sensations, and on the new cable network, Phil Donahue returned, uninhibited by conservative management, with a program that surged to the top of the ratings, as it featured such individuals as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Nat Hentoff, Greg Palast, and other progressives whose previous appearances had been confined to University lectures. No longer fearing spin and slander at the hands of media “personalities,” Democratic notables such as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter rejoined the public conversation. And finally, established media personalities, such as MSNBC reporter Ashleigh Banfield, who had paid dearly for their lapses into candor and integrity, had a career alternative – a refuge. Many such high-profile individuals signed on to the new networks, while others who remained with the established media, gained, with this alternative at hand, a leverage which allowed them more freedom and which moved the media in general toward the center and toward renewed journalistic integrity.
The progressive opposition had long lamented that if only they could get an even break with the media and get the compelling facts about the Bush policies out to the public, the days of the right-wing domination of politics and public relations would be numbered. At last Thomas Jefferson’s faith was re-affirmed: corruption, demagoguery, abuse of power, and oppression, he wrote, could not survive in the bright light of a free, open, independent and diverse press – and now, broadcast and internet media.
But the right wing did not surrender easily. In February, 2004, the office of the liberal publication The Nation was fire-bombed. The culprit said that he was motivated by columnist Ann Coulter’s remark that she had wished that Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma truck bomb had exploded alongside the New York Times offices. The consequences of this act were not what the right wing terrorists had expected or desired. Donations of equipment, personnel and cash flowed toward the emergency offices of The Nation, which was back in operation with quadrupled subscriptions within two weeks. This act of sabotage alerted and reinvigorated the journalistic profession more than any amount of ink on paper could have done. It was the catalytic moment of the restoration of the free media in America.
There remained another dragon at the gate to political reform: the dreaded “paperless” computer voting machines. Throughout the country, states and municipalities were adopting computerized voting, whereby ballots would be tallied electronically, with no paper records, and with software that was “proprietary” – i.e., the undisclosed property of the machine manufacturer. In other words, the election returns were to be taken “on the word” of the computer manufacturers, all of which, by the way, were supporters of and contributors to the Republican Party. In fact, a major investor of one company, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, was elected by the machines made by a firm of which he was a major stockholder. Moreover, had the pre-election polls of the 2002 mid-term election proven fully accurate, the Democrats would have taken control of the Congress. However, in a few of the contests tallied by paperless computers, there were statistically improbable “shifts” toward the Republicans, who thus controlled the Congress. In that same election, exit polls, which had consistently proved to be the best indicators of election results, were cancelled for reasons never fully explained. Predictably, the mass media were astonishingly uncurious about these strange anomalies and coincidences, and so the public accepted the results of the 2002 election without protest.
All this changed when three Democratic state Attorneys General launched investigations into computer vote fraud. Computer experts demonstrated the ease with which a 50-50 voter input to a computer voting machine could yield a 60-40 output, with no traceable record in the software. At length, three software programmers employed by the computer companies testified, under oath and the threat of perjury, that they had done just that in the 2002 Georgia election.
In January, 2004, the “Absolve Allegiance” movement emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, and then from everywhere. “Absolve Allegiance” (the words are from our Declaration of Independence) had a starkly simple message: if the 2004 Presidential Election is decided by unverifiable computer programs, we will absolve our allegiance to the resulting United States government. Individuals were then invited to sign pledges to that effect. The response was tepid and slow at first. But then Attorney General Ashcroft proclaimed that he would regard any individual who signed a pledge to be immediately eligible for loss of citizenship and deportation. This so outraged the public that a flood of pledges followed, many by Governors, Mayors, celebrities and more than a few United States Senators and Congressmen. By March, 2004, more than five million pledges had been signed and verified, and copies dumped at the office of the Attorney General. Pressure on Congress to pass the Holt Voter Confidence Act became irresistible, when it became clear that for many Congressmen, opposition to the bill was a sure ticket to defeat. The Bill became law in May, 2004, ensuring a fair Presidential election in the fall.
In the meantime, with the freedom of the media renewed, and with the Congressional investigatory committees hard at work and their public hearings widely broadcast, the corruption and maladministration of the Bush Administration became painfully apparent to the public at large. At last, the public came face-to-face with the dreadful consequences of Bush policies for the economy, for civil liberties, for environmental protection, for health and safety regulation, and for a myriad of other government functions heretofore taken for granted by the public.
In addition, the American public was obliged, at last, to acknowledge and deal with the devastating loss of international prestige and honor, brought about by the international lawlessness of the Bush Administration.
The disclosure in June, 2003, of the lies about the alleged Iraqi WMDs proved to be a snowball tossed upon the mountain slope that set loose the avalanche that would eventually sweep George Bush, and the so-called “conservative revolution,” out of the American body politic.
By mid-Summer, 2004, with his approval ratings at 20%, and his re-election numbers at 15%, and the Congress moving decisively toward impeachment and conviction, George Bush announced that he would not be a candidate for re-election in 2004. In the meantime, faced with influx of millions of protesters to the September GOP convention in New York, the Republican National Committee moved the convention to Dallas, Texas..
The Presidential election of 2004 was almost anti-climactic. Dubbed by the press as “The Army-Navy Game,” General Wesley Clark soundly defeated Senator John McCain. Though highly regarded as an honorable man, McCain could not overcome the burden of his discredited party. Both houses of Congress were won by the Democrats by substantial margins. This was particularly surprising in the case of the House of Representatives where, it was believed, the two parties had arranged to have districts drawn so that election to the House amounted, in most cases, to lifetime appointments. They had not counted on a voter rebellion of such magnitude, as voting shifts of fifteen to twenty percent swept sixty Republican incumbents out of the House.
Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O’Connor had intended to retire when a Republican President and Senate were likely to appoint conservative successors. These hopes vanished with “the revolt of the independents” and the impending impeachment of George Bush. And so, when they retired in the Summer of 2004, their seats remained vacant pending the outcome of the Presidential election. Soon after the election, President Clark nominated and the Senate confirmed Senator Patrick Leahy as the new Chief Justice, and Lawrence Tribe, a Harvard scholar, the new Associate Justice. The appointment of these liberals blunted the effects of the conservative Bush appointments to the lower federal courts. For now, the more outrageous decisions in the lower courts faced reversal in the Supreme Court.
Scarcely had President Clark finished his oath of office when the new President and Congress set upon a breathtaking and exhilarating program of reforms.
Clark announced the withdrawal of all US occupation forces in Iraq, as soon as a contingent of UN peacekeepers, heavily represented by Middle East and Islamic nations, assumed administration of the country. At the earliest opportunity, elections would be held and an Iraqi government installed. Generous reconstruction aid would be sent to Iraq, to be administered by their new government. “We may not like the government they elect,” said the President, “but it is their choice, and we will respect it.”
It was abundantly clear to the new administration, as to the public at large, that radical reforms in campaign financing had to be enacted, if the dreadful abuses of the recent past were not to be repeated. And so the Campaign Reform Act included, among its many provisions, a limit on campaign spending for each office, a ban on corporate political contributions, an allowance of personal contributions to blind general funds (so that no particular candidate could be benefited by a particular contribution), and a requirement that free broadcast time be allotted for candidate debates. (See "A Bribe by Any Other Name"). When GOP and corporate interests challenged the campaign rules, the Supreme Court upheld the reforms, ruling that the free speech clause of the First Amendment did not condone bribery, and that the apportionment of political influence to wealth violated that most fundamental Constitutional principle carved above the Supreme Court portico: “Equal Justice Under Law.”
The Bush tax policies were thrown out, and taxes on estates and dividends restored. The income tax rates were restored to the levels set by President Clinton, which, as we know, resulted in the previous decade in a period of prosperity and budget surpluses. US companies which had incorporated off-shore to avoid US taxes, were classified as foreign enterprises subject to tariffs, and barred from federal contracts. This put an quick end to off-shore tax evasion. With the increased cash flow to Washington, the rising unemployment peaked and subsided as laid-off public employees – teachers, police, administrators, researchers, etc. – returned to their jobs, and federal contracts created still more jobs. Hard core unemployed were invited into government training programs, or put to work repairing the infrastructure. Federal funds were directed to the states which were suffering severe budget deficits, and these funds created still more jobs as neglected infrastructures were repaired and government services restored. The Treasury Secretary, Dr. Paul Krugman, cautioned that due to the considerable damage to the economy caused by the Bush policies, the recovery might be prolonged. Even so, early indications showed significant improvement in the national economy which, in turn, reversed the long-term decline in the stock market.
The Congress promptly repealed the USA PATRIOT Act, whereupon, Attorney General Hillary Clinton ordered that within two months, either charges be brought, attorneys assigned and trials scheduled for all federal detainees (including those at Guantanamo Bay), or that these individuals be released. Thus the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Articles of the Bill of Rights were restored. The Fourth Article was restored with the abolition of the search, seizure and eavesdropping provisions of the Patriot Act.
Interior Secretary Lester Brown instituted a widespread program of restoration of public lands, in particular the neglected and dilapidated National Parks. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was added to the National Park system with permanent protection from development.
In anticipation of the looming decline in world petroleum production, President Clark launched an “Energy Apollo Project,” under the direction of Energy Secretary Amory Lovins, with a goal of total energy independence and 80% renewable energy use within ten years.
There remained the devastated landscape of our foreign relations. The Senate resolution reinstating all treaties in effect as of George Bush’s January, 2001 inauguration has been very helpful, as has the payment in full of UN dues and the appointment of the highly esteemed former President James Carter as Ambassador to the United Nations.. Much improvement has resulted from President Clark’s recent “tour of reconciliation” to Europe, where our friends abroad have assured the President that their complaint was not with the American people, but with the Bush administration – a misfortune shared both by the Americans and the world beyond. The overthrow of the Bush regime and with it the neo-conservative imperialists, all to the credit of the American people, has gone a long way toward restoring the reputation of the United States. The President’s scheduled trip this Fall, to Asia and the Middle East, promises to be equally productive.
This is only the beginning of a long list of reforms put in place by President Clark and the Congress. But there is no need to elaborate, for you know of these through the reporting of our restored free press.
Like the Russian people in August, 1991, we Americans barely escaped disaster. Had the ordinary citizens of Moscow and St. Petersburg not crowded in front of the Byelii Dom (Parliament) and into Nevsky Prospect, Gorbachev and glasnost would have been overthrown and the dark days of Communist oppression would have returned. In our case, the dogmatism, the greed and the arrogance of the Bush regime finally roused the American public from its media-induced slumber. You Russians had an advantage, for you knew that your media lied, and so you ignored it. We didn’t come to that realization until it was almost too late. The Bush regime believed us to be a nation of docile and credulous sheep, willing to be led, shorn, and impoverished, without complaint. For two and a half years we gave them little reason to believe otherwise. And then they overplayed their act.
American hate to be lied to, and hate even worse to be taken as suckers.
When that realization seeped into the public mind, and then burst forth, the Bush insurgency was finished.
But just in time!
And this is how, painfully, persistently, and courageously, the American people achieved their new birth of freedom.
All the best,
Copyright 2003, by Ernest Partridge
Conscience of a Progressive: A book in progress.
Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".